Effects of Repeated Fires on the Structure, Composition, and Dynamics of Mediterranean Maquis: Short- and Long-Term Perspectives

Dan Malkisnon, Lea Wittenberg, Ofer Beeri, Ronel Barzilai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wildfires are an important agent in driving ecosystem function by altering vegetation structure and geomorphic processes. In recent decades, the number of wildfires and the total area burned has increased around the world, causing changes to natural regimes. In this study, we compared south- and north-facing slopes, their vegetation structure and dynamics, and the sediment yield generated in areas burned a number of times at the Carmel Mountain ridge in northern Israel. Our underlying hypothesis was that repeated and frequent fires significantly alter eco-geomorphic processes, including prolonged periods of soil erosion and delayed recovery of tree species. We tested whether these phenomenon are characterized by different rates on opposing aspects. To study the long-term changes of the vegetation we analyzed a 21-year (1985-2006) chrono-sequence of satellite images, in areas burned once, twice, or three times. Additionally, we estimated vegetation structure and cover at high resolutions in monitoring plots following a fire in 2005 in areas burned once or twice during the last two decades. To evaluate the long-term dynamics of the system, specific transition probabilities among the vegetation types, as a function of the number of times each site was burned, were used to construct Markov-based transition matrices. Additionally, runoff and sediment have been collected after precipitation events from the plots. The satellite image classifications revealed changes in the composition of tree, shrub, and herbaceous vegetation cover following wildfire events. Satellite image analyses suggest that recurring fires within short-time intervals may significantly alter the long-term structure of the vegetation communities, and may eliminate woody vegetation from the landscape (both trees and shrubs). Consequently, this results in the establishment and dominance of herbaceous vegetation communities. Similar trends were observed in the high-resolution monitoring plots. Sediment yields differed significantly in areas burned twice on south-facing slopes, compared to lower values obtained in areas burned once, or located on north-facing slopes. Thus, we demonstrate that repeated fires may dramatically alter long-term trajectories of Mediterranean-type vegetation communities and ecosystems. This pattern, in turn, may have significant implications for the associated geo-morphological processes, especially runoff and erosion, and should be of particular concern given recent changes of fire regimes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-488
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Markov model
  • Mediterranean ecosystem
  • remote sensing
  • repeated fires
  • soil erosion
  • vegetation dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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